Before I left Boston, I looked up the best restaurants in Barcelona and emailed a couple chefs asking for a stage.
Stage: Basically a hands-on interview. For cooks, this entails sitting down and having a formal interview with the chef, then being shown around the kitchen and introduced to other cooks who will probably ask you to complete a couple tasks from their prep list. This helps you figure out if the restaurant feels right for you, and the chef to see if you’d be a good fit.
Last night I finally got to hang out at Cera 23! Since I have no visa, I wasn’t interested in getting hired for a job. This was just a really cool opportunity to get in the kitchen again and learn from the best!
It was awesome and made me really really miss my job at the bistro back home.
This place is only two years old. It’s tiny, seats maybe 30 at one time.
4 cooks in the kitchen at a time. One oven, one broiler. All they have are their low boys and one modestly sized typical household refrigerator in the room beyond that window in the back. On my right when I took this picture is their sole sink, where all of the dishes and equipment in the restaurant are washed. Note the prep lists written on the tile wall. It’s a pretty intimate space!
The crew was very warm and kind to me. They did their best with communicating, but most of the cooks didn’t speak much English. That resulted with me acting much more shy and quiet than I am- I can understand much more Spanish than I can speak, so lots of nodding and smiling.
My first task was dicing peppers and onion for ceviche, pretty much so they could see if I knew how to use a knife or not. The final product consisted of cod (which I had previously cleaned and portioned), lime juice, ginger, cilantro, and tabasco. It was pleasantly sour and spicy. Served atop fried yuca. The drizzle around the plate is balsamic, and ajada -> repeatedly dunk garlic into hot oil and finish with cayenne pepper.
Throughout prep time they had me do some pretty standard tasks- Julienne and blanch leeks, clean and portion octopus, cut chives, etc etc.
Here are some of the dishes I was able to snap pics of during service:
Warm chicken salad with raisins, almonds and pine-nuts. Sandwiched between store-bought wafers. Watercress and cherry tomato salad.
I wish I had a picture, but I got to try Tetilla, a Galician cheese. Ohh my god. Perfect melting cheese. It has a lot in common with Monterey because of it’s soft texture and rich but definitely still on the mild side taste. However, it’s less rubbery than Monterey and melts way more beautifully. They actually served it melted over some kind of salad, I forget. But it was awesome.
Spanish black rice, which is pretty much squid ink risotto. I’ve never had squid ink before! Totally thought it was going to be metallic-y and gross, but it was so shockingly buttery and flavorful. SO good. When I come in to eat, that’s what I’ll order.
Finally, beer battered tempura shrimp, which I was frying during service. That sauce is mango, rice wine vinegar, tabasco and ginger. Delicious.
Me and the crew! On the left are Ruben and Roberto. They (along with Guillermo) are the owners and have been friends since they grew up together in Galicia. The rest are the very funny and talented line cooks. I’m the short, pale, American one in the middle..
I tell you, Spanish people are kind of tough. They’re reserved and stand offish in public, but once you manage to crack them, they are the friendliest people in the world. A group of Canadians came in and started talking to me (mostly because I spoke the best English) and were shocked I hadn’t already been working there for years, the way everyone was treating me/eachother. The same goes for plain old friends I’ve met during my time here. I’ve been here such a short time, but I feel like I’ve known them forever.
Anyway, Guillermo invited me to accompany him to La Boqueria to pick up some food for the restaurant the next morning. We got hake, cod, shrimp, and a bunch of produce…mostly berries. Then we discussed the differences between American and Spanish kitchens over coffee.
- Spanish restaurants tend to be a little smaller than what we’re used to in the US.
- Servers make a full hourly wage and do not rely on tips like US servers do.
- So, they share their tips with the back of the house, which at least in this kitchen seemed to result in…
- A better sense of camaraderie between FOH and BOH.
- A kitchen is a kitchen- The words may be different, but the language is the same. We all understand how to get around eachother and communicate in kitchen-speak, regardless of whether we’re speaking English or Spanish.
- Some things are so good you gotta go get them yourself- Much like how we make frequent trips to Formaggio for special cheese and meat back home, at Cera 23 they make runs to La Boquería.
- Same unconventional, morally lacking line cook sense of humor.
- Same unabashed, passionate love for the food we get to work with and eat.
This visit was probably one of my top three favorite memories from Spain. They were so kind to me and the food was phenomenal. I will definitely be coming in for dinner before I leave for the US.
Thank you Cera 23!
Carrer de la Cera, 23 | El Raval, 08001 Barcelona, Spain